Give to Wendy Davis!

Best. Text. Message. Ever.
Bloggers from all over the United States are joining together today to raise money for Wendy Davis's campaign for Texas Governor. While I'm (sadly) not writing as often as I used to, my resolve to see an amazing, qualified woman like Wendy run our state is stronger than ever.

If you have a minute & can spare $5 or $50, please consider donating to Wendy Davis by clicking the thermometer below. Also, feel free to share this post on Facebook and Twitter (don't forget to use the hashtag #GiveToWendy!). Even if you are unable to donate financially, spreading the word online is a donation of its own.


Can Romney Bring Sexy Back?

On Friday, I was on KVUE news along with James Henson and Matt Mackowiak talking about Mitt Romney's impending vice presidential pick.

...Are you still awake?

Is there anyone more milquetoast than Mitt Romney? When the reporter asked if I'd be interested in giving my opinion on Romney potentially picking a woman for his veep, I honestly almost said no. I consider Romney a huge, wealthy, well-Botoxed non-issue. Let's face it: he's not as politically threatening to Obama as Obama is to himself. If you're considering Romney, then you were never and would never consider voting for Obama. The question is: can the GOP get enough people who happen to be Christian conservatives to go out and vote for the old Mormon guy? The Republican Party would have been better off just nominating a person whose last name is Reagan to the top of their ticket.

Nevertheless, we're humans and therefore we find ourselves once again in a frenzy over this Presidential election. You can expect the frenzy to uptick slightly if a woman gets picked as Romney's veep, just like they did when John McCain brought sexy back.

You can also expect that whichever woman is chosen will only slightly increase the numbers in which conservatives will drag themselves begrudgingly -- but with the power of the Lord's spirit! -- to the polls in November. When voting for the lesser of two supposed evils, people generally don't spend too much time deliberating over gender.

From the clip: "Mitt Romney choosing a vice presidential candidate that's a female is kind of like sending 'I'm sorry' flowers to women of America, and I think they're going to see right through it," said Democratic activist and blogger Rachel Farris.


Less than 2% of Texans have cast their ballots so far. The people who make laws are being selected by a very small few. Please get out and vote today. You can find your voting location here. And if you're voting in Travis County, please vote for Charlie Baird for District Attorney.


The Baby

My mom, with a new baby.
Editor's Note: I originally wrote this as a spoken word piece for Austin's Listen to Your Mother, an event which invites local writers to talk about what they've learned from their mothers. While I didn't make it through the second round of auditions, I decided my mom might still enjoy reading it. Happy Mother's Day, mama. I didn't buy you any more things...or tofu. I love you.

“She’s my baby.”

That’s what my mom would say from the time I was a toddler, sucking my left thumb into the shape of a pancake, to when I was thirteen and wearing hot pink blush left over from a Bobbi Brown makeover -- a splurge my mother surprised me with for my fourteenth birthday. To this day, I can be walking into my mother’s office, wearing my best work blazer and J. Crew ballet flats, gazing down her office hallways with twenty eight years of hard-earned wisdom, and my mom will grab me by the elbow, drag me down the hall and say to her coworker, “You remember Rachel - she’s my baby.”

It’s not easy being the baby. My older sister was never qualified that way. But why would she? Everything about my sister evokes her status as the first child. She got the best names - Grace Elizabeth. They are special names, names whose roots run deep into both sides of our family, as if my mother - also named Elizabeth - thought there would never be another daughter to come along so she used them all up at once, like wishes from a genie bottle.

My sister’s life has always been a gentle breeze of prosperity and advancement. She shared a passion for painting with my mom, something I found to be tedious and difficult to do well, particularly when in the same room as the two of them. They were readers; I was a writer. They loved the bright lights and culture of the city; I loved the quiet calm of the country. My sister was agreeable and, I’m told, I wasn't.

But it could never be said that my mom played favorites. While she resists the classification, she was not exactly the type to dote over her children. My sister and I found her greatest failing as a mother was to not have commissioned enough professional photographs of our family. Our cousins would regularly send photos of their family members stacked like measuring cups on craggy coastal hillsides. We were lucky to send out a Christmas card every other year. But despite her lack of family spirit, my mom was the sort of person you would want to have at your side in times of crisis, like at a hospital or in a natural disaster. She asks questions that other people don’t think to ask or wouldn’t want to. She makes things happen. She imposes order.

I used to wonder if the two extra years my sister had early on with my mom were what made her so much better than me. I’d imagine the two of them lounging around, my mom peering down the bridge of her over-sized, eighties eyeglasses at my sister, reading her stories from The New Yorker and dressing her in sparkling new cotton dresses. My dad would come home from work and they would all eat spaghetti. There was no one to dispute or disturb the three them. There was simply them and my sister absorbed every minute of it all.

Until I came along, screaming and bald until two years old! They gave me an unconventional name that seemed to be an afterthought. My mother, who said I looked like Frank Sinatra, still tells the story of how humid it was the April I -- her baby -- was born. “There were fleas popping all over you when I brought you home from the hospital!” My mom still proclaims.

The role of the baby, I decided early on, was the role of the outsider. I’ve been the observer, the watcher of family relations. Mostly I focused on my sister and my mother’s relationship, which seemed to be less turbulent than the one I had always had with my mom. I felt at times I was the anthropologist, logging dates and times in my vast array of journals filled with slights and insults, victories and defeats:

August 3, 1992 – Grace got headshots for aspiring acting career but still no pony has appeared in the backyard for me.
February 10, 1995 – Got pancakes and extra cuddles on a Saturday morning while Grace was at a UIL competition.
November 3, 1998 –  Mom’s spare ticket to Tosca was given to Grace. Grace got to wear mom’s pearls. Oh well, I hate the opera anyway. Dad made my favorite for dinner: fettuccine Alfredo.

Age didn’t really change the dynamic. When my sister graduated high school, she moved to Rhode Island for college. My mom would sit in my sister’s room every night watching her small, fourteen inch TV, previously reserved for my sister's obsession with episodes of Felicity and Dawson’s Creek. I didn’t understand why my mom would sit in Grace’s room instead of the living room, where there was a bigger television and more comfortable seating. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps my parents' thirty-four year marriage was falling apart, a disintegrating nest as their fledgling children pushed off on their own. I concluded the only explanation was that my mom missed her daughter, the first one, the best one. We fought a lot during those days.

My sister’s departure changed everything. When Grace came home, a celebrity was coming to visit. Our family trips to her college town were rife with disagreements and emotions, pulled by the odd dynamic of suddenly being visitors in my sister’s new life. And in the four years following my sister’s departure, as my parents separated, and subsequently divorced, I found myself uncomfortable with the realization that I was now the only daughter left. I was the only daughter there to help my mom decorate her new garage apartment, and comment on how lovely her toile bedding looked, and remark that yes, the kitchen was quite spacious for such a small living area, and sit on our old chairs in a new living room, and not ask why my dad was not there, and pretend to not notice that she didn’t seem sad at all. I wanted my old life back, the one where my sister played referee between me and my mom and my dad was the one who bought ice cream and declared "You're all beautiful!" when emotions ran high. That day still hasn’t come. In a way, I became my mom’s go-to daughter, the one whose boyfriends helped move heavy furniture for her and who could pick up her newspapers when she was out of town.

In January, my sister had her first child. I awoke to a text message photo of a round-faced, pink-lipped baby boy, squished between my sister and her husband, who had met in Rhode Island but since moved to Boston. My mom called me moments later. “Isn’t he cute?” I asked, as my mom announced she was getting on a plane and that she hoped the baby wouldn’t be born before she got there. I realized my mom had no idea he was already born. My sister had told me first.

If I still had my journals, I would have written that down.

I flew up to Boston later that day. On the plane, I wondered how my sister felt, having our mother so far away as she went into labor. I thought of the mornings we would beg my mom to cuddle with us in our beds, jumping on top of her as she would exclaim “Piles and piles of girly flesh!” We were so young but I don’t think I’d feel anything else if I were laying on a hospital bed today: the wanting, the warmth, the comfort of never having enough and having everything we needed all at once. “Just one more minute!” we’d cry as my mom would try to stand up and go back to reading the paper.  

When I arrived at the hospital that evening, my mom was already there, ordering my sister’s husband around and picking up the hospital room. “My baby,” my mom exclaimed as I walked through the door. Grace smiled at me, holding her own baby, and sighed “Isn’t he the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”

I walked over to my sister’s bed and peered over her shoulder, staring down at the little lump of flesh she held cradled in her arms. I thought of everything he had yet to experience or know: his favorite color, where he’d go to college, which hand would he write with, whether he would have a Boston accent, or wish he was born in Texas, or have a sibling as stubborn as I was.

And then I thought of my sister, of the successes and achievements of her life, the failures and disappointments she would eventually face, the swaths of joy and happiness he would bring her, and the moments of confusion and sadness they might also share. Her journey into motherhood seemed like so much to take in, so much to embark upon without knowing the direction. Her bravery seemed worthy of all the firsts she had been awarded in life and it occurred to me that perhaps that was what being the first child was all about – building the confidence to always be the first.

Standing there next to the new mother and child, I felt no envy or wistfulness. And while I was not the youngest in the room that day, I was never more content to be the baby.

An Endorsement: On Problem Solving and Criminal Justice

Where I live, you see a lot of problems. The grip of poverty and poor decision-making permeates nearly everyone who lives across from me in the Santa Rita Courts. These problems are not what most struggle with. These are ugly problems. These are illegal problems. These are evil problems. There's a mother crying on your porch, cracked out on something at 2 AM, screaming at you that she hates her six year-old son whose cut on his lip suddenly seems like it's not from a broken glass after all. There's a man knocking on your door to ask for money, or a ride to the hospital. There's a dog catcher picking up a stray dog. There's an immigrant pushing a cart full of popsicles, trailed by a little boy who keeps yelling "Ice cream!" but the raspa man just keeps pushing because he knows the little boy has no money and it's hot and there are other houses to see. There's a clean-cut thirteen year-old saving up for a pair of Nikes who somehow manages to steal things, small things, from you, thinking you won't notice. There's a family whose lives have been disrupted due to drugs and abuse and who move further and further away from you, and whose children memorize your phone numbers because the numbers--or you--are the only things they have in their life that stay the same.

These are ugly problems to wake up to.

It's easy to think that they are not your own problems. Oh, that is the easiest of them all, as if these problems are some external force, some blustery wind that swept up the other people like trash blowing down the street. You watch them blow away and you thank any God you believe in that they are not your problems, and you sweep off your curb and go inside.

That is the easiest way. But it is not the right way.

You cry with the mother and you tell her to love. You hand a dollar and give a ride and expect nothing but a fleeting moment of gratitude. You waive down the raspa man and buy the little boy a popsicle. You find a way to forgive those who truly trespass against you and you encourage another way. You go, as far as you have to, to be a constant in an otherwise shattered life. Whenever you can, you answer the phone.

You can either be a part of the solution or you can watch the suffering. You can fortress yourself with the safety of judgement, and wipe your conscience clean of any reason to get involved, or you can open your door when someone is knocking. You become vulnerable, and you will be questioned for this. But you do what you can to solve the problems and you remember, at all times, that they are your own.

This is why I am supporting Charlie Baird for the Travis County District Attorney's race. Our criminal justice system has problems. Worse yet, our criminal justice system causes problems. We do not need someone simply to manage them; we need someone who wants to have a part in solving them. Charlie Baird will work to solve the problems that lead to so much destruction within our community.

We are all blowing away. In our struggle, we catch on others, and, if we are to be good and if we are to hold on, we try to help those who we may never want to know.

What do Democrats and hot chicks have in common?

They're both tired of getting hit on by old men.

At least, that's what we can infer from Democrat Paul Sadler's paltry showing in his US Senate race, according to an interview with the Texas Tribune:
"I don’t think we’ve seen a primary where there was basically no money given. And that’s basically where we are...There’s a lot of donor fatigue,” Sadler aid [sic]. "I think they’re just tired of getting hit on.” 
I can't say I'm shocked, but I appreciate Sadler's attempt at feigning surprise.

Now, there's nothing wrong with old politicians who run for office.

But here in Texas, they just don't run very well. And no one, especially not hot chicks, wants to vote for them.

Unfortunately, though, lately they seem to be the only guys at the bar.

The Texas Shame Act

The Texas sonogram law is having its fifteen minutes of fame in Doonesbury comic strips this week. Of course, this is causing proponents of the law a bit of anxiety as they never expected anyone but liberal, hairy-legged peace pipe players and baby killers to pay attention to the law or even hear about it.
I was asked to comment on the issue by KVUE's Mark Wiggins. It is ironic that newspapers are moving the strip to the opinion pages or offering a different series while women in Texas seeking an abortion have no alternative to undergoing this procedure.

Of course, there's always another view, as KVUE reports:
"I'm very sad that a Texas law is being made fun of in this manner, when all this is about is protecting the health of women," said Carol Everett, CEO of anti-abortion non-profit the Heidi Group. "...[W]e do not need to be putting it in the comic section, first of all, where families and children may see it, or even the editorial page. We need to give that woman the privacy that she deserves when she makes that decision, yet a fully-informed consent."

There's some flawed logic here. If all this law is about is simply "protecting the health of women," then what's the harm of it being brought up in the comic section where "families and children may see it"? If that's all this law is about, truly a plight to keep women safe, then why can't I read about it while I gulp down OJ and Cheerios? Comic strips like Zits prod at women's health and no one seems to get up in arms about that.

The difference is that the law is not about protecting women's health. It's not about giving a woman "the privacy that she deserves," as if the very basic right to privacy is something women still have to be deserving of, like a day at the spa or a pay raise. But this law isn't even about that. It's invasive, state-mandated shaming. So call it what it is: the Texas Shame Act.

Texas vs. Virginia: A Tale of Two Sonograms

There's only so much crowing a Texan can take before wondering why everyone was up in arms over Virginia debating a law that Texas had already set into place. And I wasn't alone. Former Texas Observer journalist Abbey Rapoport asked this morning over at The Prospect "Where Was the Outrage Over Texas's Sonogram Law." The Texas Tribune's Emily Ramshaw also remarked at the different reactions to the law, bolstered by a Saturday Night Live skit and Virginia's battleground status.
It got me wondering if everyone just slept through the last session, so I turned to the internet in an effort to rationalize some of this with data. Below is a chart showing Google search insight over the last year. You can see that the red line, searches for "Texas sonogram," peaks somewhat during the legislative session and again when the bill was being debated in court. But the search trends and interest in the Texas Transvaginal Corridor were nowhere near as drastic as they are for Virginia's.

I decided to narrow down my focus to Texas to see what our best and brightest were really interested in during the last few months. So I threw in some other search terms that I thought might be more reflective of the general interests of everyday Texans.
Well, that was a bad idea.

If this is starting to depress you, take heart: only one in three Texans have access to and use the internet, according to a 2010 Census report. But actually, that's not very comforting either because it very well may be one of the reasons there was a considerable lack of hoo-rah surrounding the Texas Republican majority poking around in women's hoo-hahs.

We're the third lowest state in the nation in the number of individuals using the internet, beating out only Mississippi and West Virginia. Whereas nearly seventy five percent of Virginians have access to and use the internet, which is right around the national average, we're about ten points behind. There's a definite virality behind our political process these days and if more than half of all concerned citizens are not able to be a part of the process, then it's no wonder word isn't making it outside of the violet echochamber of Austin.


A few words regarding the Obama contraception compromise

Obama offered a compromise yesterday that allows women who work for religious organizations to continue to receive access to contraception by requiring their health insurance providers to offer it for free. Of course that caused people to cry "Cop out!" and "Obama caved again!" all over the internet. I got a phone call from KVUE reporter Mark Wiggins asking if I'd go on camera to talk about the issue. The clip, and my thoughts on the matter, are below (transcript and video also here).

I'm not sure when "compromise" became a bad word in politics but we need to stop making it into one if we want to have any progress in our political system. If you value women's health and religious freedom, this is a win-win.

2011: A Love Story

It's the time of year when I look back and reflect on this blog and the life that leads it. It was a slow year for the old weblog -- if you're still reading, you deserve an award or at least a nice paperweight as I only wrote 37 posts for the entire year. Throughout my life, my most prolific times of writing have been during times of angst and unhappiness -- my last year of high school, my first year of working full-time, the year I waited for a person in Iraq. It makes me think that the more full my life is, and the more happy I feel, the less I have to write. Maybe that means I'm saying everything that needs to be said and doing what needs to be done. Or maybe I was just plain busy. Maybe a little of both.

Regardless, 2011 had a clear theme from the start. I went to visit my sister in Boston for New Year's Eve. I arrived just days after a huge blizzard snowed-in airports and cities across New England. Had I arrived a few days earlier, the story might have been very different. But as it happened, I arrived fresh-faced and delay-free in Boston to a winter wonderland after having watched Love Story for the first time on Netflix just a week before. Our first stop after leaving the airport was a snow-covered park with only a rust-red Vizsla bounding through it.

"This looks just like Love Story!" I exclaimed and we quickly made our way to the only attraction of the park: a swingset set against red brick buildings framing a glimpse of "the Prude," as my sister called it. We appealed to the Vizsla's owner to take a photo of us on the swings and the product was immediately posted to Facebook with the caption "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

The new year opened up new possibility and new experiences, the first of which being a major decision to go to college. No matter how many times I've written "go to college," I always have to stop myself from writing "go back to college." It's weird to tell people you never went, let alone got started. College has been an experience, a discovery in which I have realized two things: 1) They were right, college is not like high school. The professors are different, the students are different and the cost of tuition and books makes me wonder how we ever expect anyone to get a college degree. 2) They were wrong, college is like high school. The bureaucracy is the same, the same incredible number of hoops through which a student must jump are the same and the process, to me, feels very much the same.

The one thing I have learned from college as a whole is a better understanding of myself and others. It falls under the category of "emotional intelligence," something that has been my blind spot for years. I didn't expect to learn how to be more understanding or more honest with myself and others. I didn't think that you could teach someone how to be more forgiving, or to consider all perspectives, or to be more patient. But you can. I feel happier, stronger and altogether more content with my increased emotional IQ and I work every day to improve it.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention at this point that college also led me to another love story. That one is about meeting a guy who doesn't like the Internet but loves helping people when they need it the most and how that led to helping a long list of people, including making five little kids' Christmas a lot brighter. I think we'll find a lot more people to help at some point or another.

Then there were the speaking engagements. I spoke to Evan Smith's LBJ school class about being a citizen in a journalist's world. I moderated an interview with Senator Kirk Watson. I delivered speeches and trainings about Democratic politics to groups across the state: McAllen, Austin (x3), San Marcos and Dallas. I delivered a presentation on the effects of social media on the pet industry in Atlanta and gave a pretty awesome email marketing presentation at Innotech eMarketing Summit. And you know what? I loved every second of it all.

The final major love story of my life this year came in the form of a building. Specifically, a building at the corner of 7th Street and Brazos in downtown Austin. After nearly 6 years of driving over 60 miles a day to and from work, and nearly 10 years if you count the 4 years I worked at the stables off of Hamilton Pool Road, I now have a short, chauffeured 1.8 mile drive to and from work every day. I'm a big believer in real estate as a window to one's soul and I have to say that my office location finally represents how I feel about my career: taking risks, making sound decisions, forging ahead when there is uncertainty and knowing that the investment is always worth it.

I have no complaints about 2011. I feel sated.